March 28 2013
A Tipping Point on BPA?
Over on Forbes, Trevor Butterworth examines whether we're starting to see a tipping point in the controversy over the chemical bisphenol-A, better known as BPA (which I've written about previously here, here, and here). Butterworth suggests we might be seeing something resembling comity emerging from the two camps--the regulatory agencies around the world who say the evidence does not show a risk to humans and the anti-chemical and environmental activists who claim chemicals used in everyday products and food packaging is dangerous.
A trio of scientists from the Food and Drug Administration trooped up to the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Boston in February to talk about the work the agency has been doing in conjunction with the National Toxicology Program on bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used in a huge range of applications from food safety linings to cash register receipts and medical equipment. The FDA scientists were ready to be attacked: while regulatory agencies around the world keep insisting that the evidence does not show a risk to humans, environmental activists – backed by a handful of academic scientists – claim there is; and the debate has been intense and often unedifying.
So it came as something of a shock to the panel and the audience when, after the presentation by the FDA’s Daniel Doerge, Ruthann Rudel, an expert on endocrine disruption at the Silent Spring Institute (named after the Rachel Carson book which ignited the environmental movement) praised his research. “I actually just want to thank you for the work that you’ve done, because I’ve found your studies to be some of the most clarifying and helpful pieces of information in making my way through the bisphenol A woods,” said Rudel.
Making one's way through the BPA woods is a good way to describe the topic of chemicals. For those not trained in the field, it can be hard to understand the terminology and the complexity of the issues. Yet, somehow Butterworth manages to make the topic clear. His latest piece is no exception. While he acknowledges that "this work is exceedingly complex to execute and understand," Butterworth's interview with Food and Drug Administration researcher Daniel Doerge (one of the scientists that made that trip to Boston last month) is important because it informs the reader that the work being done by the FDA to ensure the safety of BPA is extremely thorough. This new research is going, as Butterworth puts it, "where no assessment of an environmental chemical has ever gone before in terms of scope and sophistication." Unfortunately for the average person (particularly moms who are bombarded with scary stories about BPA), this new research simply isn't being publicized. Butterworth explains:
The FDA’s pharmacokinetic studies are, therefore, central to our understanding of BPA and whether it poses a risk to health. But besides being previously mentioned in this column, Doerge’s research has only been mentioned one other time in the media – on NPR – despite hundreds of stories on the topic. And the pharmacokinetic research is only one strand of the work the FDA is doing on BPA at its National Center for Toxicological Research in Arkansas and in conjunction with the National Toxicology Program.
Women should ignore the alarmists and instead start reading up on the body of reassuring and highly respected research being done on BPA. Perhaps because of this newfound comity between former foes coupled with the continued good work of writers like Trevor Butterworth, we might see the good news spread.